Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Attitude √Čtude

Included in the ever expanding catalog of negative black male stereotypes is the cool pose. It has received serious scholarly attention from the eminent Orlando Patterson. But like most attributes it can be quite useful depending on the circumstance. Last night Barack Obama utilized this trait quite masterfully. When faced with a threatening and potentially psychemotionally charged situation he adroitly diffused tensions. He appeared self-assured and casually confident.

The cool pose was crucial to Barack's ability to maintain equanimity under duress and provided sharp relief against Hillary Clinton whose emotions were always near the surface and threatening to erupt at anytime. Even the news anchors moderating the venue weren't immune when the senator from New York went into porcupine mode.
The popular but erroneous image of the glass ceiling conveys the idea that there is a single point obstructing progress. But the the more accurate image is a labyrinth. Leadership is a tortuous path lined with numerous hazards. Skill sets and personality traits that are a hindrance in one setting can be a positive asset in another.

Presidents are faced with multiple competing interests. The president must create space for him/herself. Constituents ranging from cabinet ministers to foreign governments continuously encroach upon the president to force his hand. The most successful presidents are those who can delay such decisions despite the sense of urgency.

John F. Kennedy's management of the Cuban Missile Crisis is an excellent case study of presidential decision making. With clamors from all corners for action and the later discredited domino theory still enjoying legitimacy, JFK's deliberation process is considered the ideal.

Hillary's defiant smirks, petulance, and pedantries displayed none of the detached coolness associated with paragons of leadership. As the only woman engaged in the male dominated arena, the audience would have naturally sympathized with Clinton. But Senator Clinton's confrontational, take no prisoners style was abrasive and evaporated any compassion for her, and in this case made Senator Obama's easygoing manner even more refreshing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Flawless Victory

Tonight Barack Obama showed he has the gravitas to become President of the United States.

Why did Hillary lose so big? Certainly, she had the misfortune of going against the tide of history and, potentially, the greatest political figure since Ronald Reagan. Clinton simply couldn't inoculate enough people against the viral load of Barack Obama. Like President Clinton, Obama used his father's absence to motivate him. He became a devoted husband and father and satisfied his id by earning admiration in public life. His urges, unlike the former president, never grew beyond his control and were sublimated into an acceptable form.

But for all of Obama's copious gifts, Senator Clinton's losses are of galactic proportions. What did she do to disable herself? Her husband owns a great share of this defeat. During Al Gore's campaign, the former president was shelved as he was considered a liability. With the former vice president's loss, Bill Clinton never got the chance to affirm his legacy.

After Bill Clinton was dusted off for 2007 he transmogrified into your old college roommate who overstays his welcome, drinks too much liquor, and is socially inappropriate with your teenage daughter. Bill Clinton strayed from the pattern of former presidents who are much more reserved and strategic in expressing support. The Hillary Clinton campaign overestimated the reservoir of goodwill for Bill. They forgot that Bill never had a mandate and, like G.W. Bush, he governed on a narrow electoral platform. It is not without just reason that John F. Harris's biography of the man is titled The Survivor.

Hillary was schizophrenic. She claimed thirty-five years of experience which was comprised mostly of being at her husband's side while Bill clawed out a political existence . Yet she wanted to assert feminist appeal as her own woman and avoid receiving criticism for the very real shortcomings of the Clinton legacy. Even with Barrack she demonstrated a labile affect varying from a conciliatory tone at the close of one debate to berating him like a stereotypical schoolmarm with "shame on you" the next day. These are hardly confidence building maneuvers.

Finally, Hillary Clinton lacked, in George W. Bush's vernacular, the "vision thing." She ran a conventional campaign against an unconventional opponent. She followed the traditional outline of looking for pillars of support: women, working class whites, minorities, especially Latinos, and her own unique transcendence as the first female president. Barack's aspirations were much greater and he made no such distinctions by reaching for everyone. Usually such appeals are reserved for general elections not primaries. But the senator from Illinois has conducted the primary contest as if it were the fall election. Such an inspired choice rivals Hannibal's decision to cross the Pyrenees to attack Rome. Let us hope Scipio does not wait past the horizon.

He Got Game

Peace and Union   Gen Robert E Lee's Final surrender  April 9, 1865  by Thomas Nast
You know things are tight for Hillary when even the Wall Street Journal gives Barack props. This article is a good riposte to Ted Widmer's recent criticism of Senator Obama's oratory as lacking muscle and bone. I'm even more certain that Obama will win next week's round of primaries. The question is will Senator Clinton persist and erode her remaining political capital or will she take the rare opportunity to exercise moral courage on the public stage and acquiesce to her opponent?

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
by William Ernest Henley

While growing up in New York City, public transportation provided the synapse of my existence. The buses and trains were an exercise in democracy in which private and public school kids would congeal into a fibrinous clot.

After school let out I would congregate with friends at 179 Street and Hillside Avenue and wait for the Q2 bus to take me home. The rides would range from banal meandering to diffident restraint in the presence of menacing figures to bold proposals for the name and phone number of a fine coed.

Sometimes my stop at Hollis Avenue and 217 Street came too soon. A ranking session would still be going strong or I would be at the crucial point of a story. No matter what, I always had to keep in mind that my destination was not the same as my compatriots.

This weekend's State of the Black Union was a remarkable display of paternalism. The forum's host, Tavis Smiley, repeatedly cautioned the audience to hold the future President accountable and wondered if blacks would be discouraged if Barack Obama lost. Tavis loves Black people to the bone. This cannot be denied. But he infantilizes the electorate.

Even during manumission, blacks were very aware of the vagaries of politics. It was our formidable prowess at utilizing the electoral process that caused whites in power to use terrorism and create laws which constrained black power.

Despite the opinions of liberals and conservatives, black citizens have always been savvy about guarding their interests. The black people who vote for Senator Obama certainly know that there is a chance that he could lose. They know that there lives aren't going to change overnight simply because Barack and Michelle occupy the White House. Mr. Smiley and others should give black people more credit.

In several hours comprised mostly of racially narcissistic projections I did not hear anything about lifestyle changes that we will have to make in order to survive as a country. Other than the usual admonition to register and get out and vote, I heard nothing about how to organize a political action committee or become an electoral delegate or a member of the local school board.

Smiley's audience would have been more enriched had the participants told us these things and the pastor recited Invictus during the closing benediction. Henley's words are more empowering than anything Jesus is reported to have uttered on the Mount of Olives.

How strange it is that Tavis's entreaties for vigilance weren't matched by vigorous examination of his corporate sponsor, ExxonMobil, and its role in geopolitical strife and environmental genocide. It wasn't right to discuss the crises of increasing home foreclosures and rising costs for healthcare without subjecting Wells Fargo and McDonald's to a rigid sigmoidoscopy.

The Obama express continues its relentless push toward the White House and I hope he makes it. But I think this is where I get off.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Thief in the Night

The greatest character ever created for American television died over the weekend. This rival to Shakespeare's Falstaff didn't even warrant mention in the fictional newspaper of the series for which he was created. Omar Little's ignominious passing perfectly mirrors what happens in ordinary life: stolen merchandise never to be recovered. Except in this case the merchandise is a human life. It makes me wonder if 2 Peter 3:9 is a cruel joke. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Could this be a Christian version of the Satanic verses?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The War on Terror

Paranoia is a defiant charge to a cold, unfeeling cosmos: "Hear me! I exist! I'm important!" Because after all, if someone is actually orchestrating the chaos of the universe against you personally, then you do matter. When no one seems to care anymore, at least enemies give you the comforting illusion that you count.
-From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain by Minister Faust

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Barack Obama has had a Gettysburg moment. The Virginia primary was a strategic victory and although the campaign hurtles forward the outcome is not in doubt. You can hear it in Obama's victory speech in Wisconsin on Tuesday night in which he referred to John McCain but not Hillary Clinton. It is precisely because she so desperately needs a win in Texas that Senator Clinton will lose. The Giuliani camp used the same spurious logic in Florida. The race is not static and each success for Obama and defeat for Clinton becomes amplified. If the Obama onslaught was going to be abated it had to happen in the land of Jefferson.

The next important step is the choice of a running mate. The person can't be a milquetoast copy of Hubert Humphrey. Nor can it be a potentially distractive overwhelming figure like Dick Cheney. The Vice President should know where the bodies are buried and be able to provide reasonable cover. I recommend Chuck Hagel.

The Republican senator from Nebraska is a moderate not known for vitriol. He is a Vietnam War veteran who adamantly opposed the war. This would be a superb maneuver to outflank McCain and secure a firm grasp on independents and dissatisfied Republicans. I hope Obama and company will thoroughly consider him. This would be a bold and provocative selection commensurate with the theme of Change We Can Believe In.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Everybody Is a Star

"Playing it safe? calls Buster, with just enough humor and politeness so as not to be considered an egregious breech of etiquette by anyone but me. And although Marco is my friend, I still haven't dismissed the notion that this is all a setup. And I haven't really swung a club in a year. And I wonder if they can see my legs shaking. Even the black kid is watching, and I can't help but think that he has something invested in this moment too-from a perverse claim to a caddy shack bragging rights to the complete emancipation of himself and his people. And I know, as I look down the fairway one last time, that to them, if it is bad, my first swing will be my last-the one-no matter how well I play after. There can be no redemption, not for him, not for me, nor for those to whom-because of some treacherous failure or triumph of synapse or courage (whichever you believe in) the many thousands gone, here and yet to be-we are linked. And I hear them, be it by spirit, madness, or some ventriloquist's trick. I hear them pleading, exhorting me to hit the ball straight and long, just as I hear the founder rasping from his canvass on the great oak wall- "Swing, nigger, swing!"-and his brothers hissing in unison, "Amen." It's too much. It's always been too much, even divested of all I love. I can't take it anymore. I just can't take it. I try my mantra-I need to hit the ball right. Head down. Go slow. I swing. Up then down. I hear nothing, but I'm standing erect at the follow-through and the ball is like a supersonic missile, ripping through air. Silent, then the sounds: the whoosh of the club past my ear, the sharp click of metal on hard plastic, then the ball flying with a high turbine wail in its wake. It carries the ridge and drops out of sight. "Goddamn," snorts Dan-almost hushed. Buster says nothing. Both caddies grin stupidly. The black one snaps out of it and reaches for my club. I wave him off because I can tell I'm about to cry.
-Man Gone Down
by Michael Thomas

Et Tu, Tavis?

I think that we each realized for ourselves that talent and potential were both, in the end, irrelevant, and that winning, and winning big, which required some dark manipulation of mind, body, and soul, was all that mattered.
-Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Legal History Blog is a concisely named but elegantly composed production from Mary Dudziak and Alfred Brophy . They have brought to attention a compilation of upcoming book releases related to Black studies. The eclectic offerings appear quite rigorous and would make a fine addition to any library.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Yes She Can

Stand Your Ground

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Mark Antony in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar